Professor of Law
Director, Mental Disability Law Program
Director, International Mental Disability
Law Reform Project, Justice Action Center
An internationally-recognized expert on mental disability law, Michael
L. Perlin has devoted his career to championing legal rights for people
with mental disabilities. A prolific author of 23 books and nearly 250
scholarly articles on all aspects of mental disability law, Professor
Perlin says that his ninth book, THE HIDDEN PREJUDICE: MENTAL
DISABILITY ON TRIAL (American Psychological Association Press,
2000), “reflects the essence of the work he has done throughout his
career.” The book is an attempt to educate society about how the
fear of persons with mental illness creates a hidden bias against them
that prevents equal justice, a form of discrimination he calls
In his book and his other work, he speaks out against “sanism,” which he defines as “the irrational prejudice that causes, and is reflected in, prevailing social attitudes toward persons with mental disabilities.” Prof. Perlin's 2011 book, INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS AND MENTAL DISABILITY LAW : WHEN THE SILENCED ARE HEARD (Oxford University Press), explores how the virulence of sanism is an international phenomenon. In a book he published in early 2013, MENTAL DISABILITY AND THE DEATH PENALTY: THE SHAME OF THE STATES (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers), he examines its impact on death penalty decision making. In a book to be published this Summer, A PRESCRIPTION FOR DIGNITY: RETHINKING CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND MENTAL DISABILITY LAW (Ashgate Press), he seeks to place dignity at the core of the criminal justice system, especially in those cases that involve defendants with mental disabilities. A teacher-lawyer-advocate who advises mental health professionals, hospitals, advocates, activists, lawyers, and governments, Professor Perlin has worked directly on mental disability cases as a deputy public defender and as director of the Division of Mental Health Advocacy in the New Jersey Department of the Public Advocate, at all levels of the judicial system from the police court to the Supreme Court of the United States. He has witnessed the complexities and frustrations facing both judges and attorneys with such cases.
Professor Perlin travels around the globe to speak out about the legal rights of people with mental disabilities. In conjunction with Disability Rights International, a U.S.-based human rights advocacy organization, he has presented mental disability training workshops in Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Bulgaria, and Uruguay. As part of his work with the Justice Action Center, he is working with advocates from Japan, Australia and the Pacific Rim to create the Disability Rights Tribunal for Asia and the Pacific, a topic that he discusses at length in a recent article, Promoting Social Change in Asia and the Pacific: The Need for a Disability Rights Tribunal to Give Life to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, 44 GEO. WASH. INT’L L. REV. 1 (2012). He has done extensive work in China with the American Bar Association’s Rule of Law—Asia office where he has conducted “Training the Trainers” workshops in Xi’an, China to teach experienced death penalty defense lawyers how to train inexperienced lawyers, employing the online distance learning methodologies used in the NYLS online program. As a Fulbright Senior Specialist, he has taught International Human Rights and Mental Disability Law to the Global Law Program at the University of Haifa in Israel and has advised the the disability rights clinic and lectured extensively on comparative law, mental disability law and criminal procedure at the the Islamic University of Indonesia in Yogyakarta.
2002, he helped organize a symposium at New York Law School on
“International Human Rights Law and the Institutional Treatment of
Persons with Mental Disabilities: The Case of Hungary.” It was the
first such U.S. gathering, bringing together prominent activists,
advocates, and attorneys to look at the application of international human
rights law to improve the treatment of people with mental
disabilities. Nine years before that, he hosted the first law
school-based symposium ever held on Therapeutic Jurisprudence.
His multivolume treatise, Mental Disability Law: Civil and Criminal (Lexis Law Publishing, 1998–2003), which was first published in 1989 by Michie, won the 1990 Walter Jeffords Writing Prize; the five-volume second edition of that treatise won the 1990 Otto Walter Writing Award in 2003, and is the indispensable authority for legal practitioners. A seven-volume third edition -- to be co-authored with NYLS Adjunct Prof. Heather Ellis Cucolo -- is currently in preparation. Another book, THE JURISPRUDENCE OF THE INSANITY DEFENSE (Carolina Academic Press, 1994), won the Manfred Guttmacher Award of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law as the best book of the year in law and forensic psychiatry in 1994–95. He was given the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law’s Amicus Award in 1998, and the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Human Dignity and Humiliation Studies Network in 2012. The same year, he was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters by John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In the summer 2013, he will receive the first Bruce Winick Award, given by the International Academy of Law and Mental Health (on whose board of directors he sat for twenty years).
Since he joined the faculty in 1984, Professor Perlin has helped build the course offering in his legal specialty at New York Law School to such an extent that it now leads the nation in mental disability law curricula. He created and teaches the first online courses on mental disability law, offered to students here, at other U.S.-based law schools, as well as in Japan and in Nicaragua. He has also taught sections of these courses in Israel and in Finland, and has taught portions of them in Sweden, Taiwan and Indonesia. There are currently thirteen courses in the online program. He also was instrumental in the creation of the new online Masters of Arts program in mental disability law studies that NYLS launched in January 2009.
Professor Perlin has many other passions outside the law, including the clarinet, fishing, and the music of Bob Dylan.
Rutgers, A.B. 1966, magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa
Columbia, J.D. 1969, Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar (Kent Commentaries, Managing Editor)
Law Clerk, Hon. Sidney Goldmann, Appellate Division, Superior Court of New Jersey
Law Clerk, Hon. Ralph L. Fusco, Law Division, Superior Court of New Jersey
Award-winning author on mental disability law and insanity defense. Serves on the Advisory Board of the Center of Excellence for Children, Family and the Law at the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (Boston,MA), and the Advisory Board of the Centre for the Advancement of Law and Mental Health at Monash Univeristy (Melbourne, Australia) and lectures frequently on all continents on the relationship between international human rights and mental disability law. Testifies in trials as expert witness on questions of effectiveness of counsel in cases involving mentally disabled criminal defendants.